Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tomorrow, the Tablet?


Tomorrow is the big day for Apple to make their expected announcement about their long-anticipated tablet.  The web is buzzing with speculations and rumors about what to expect, ranging from it being nothing but a 10-inch iPod Touch to it being the most significant technological invention in history.  While it is dangerous to make predictions about technology, I will go on record as saying I think it will be somewhere in between.

If Jobs and Apple live up to their reputation, I expect the tablet to be every bit as innovative as the iPod and iPhone were.  This means we can expect something exciting to be unveiled.  Something that does some things no one is yet guessing.  Exactly what, we will find out in about 24 hours.  Below are some of my best guesses:

  1. It will be heavily focused on periodicals, books, and textbooks.  Unlike previous eReaders, it will have a fast-refresh rate, touch-sensitive color screen, and incorporate a lot of multi-media capabilities (such as embedding audio and video into books and magazines).  This would also make it ideal as an all-purpose catalog for online shopping.
  2. The screen is likely to be a traditional 4:3 ratio rather than 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen.  If it is designed to be used in horizontal and vertical orientation (like the iPhone), a more balanced ratio makes sense.  This is something I think other tablet prototypes have been getting wrong.  (And what eReaders have been getting right.)  The screen will be LCD and not OLED (to keep costs down).
  3. It will do everything the iPod Touch can do, plus much more.
  4. Expect some kind of innovative method for entering text.  I hope for a way to tether a wireless keyboard to it, but I’m not holding my breath on that.
  5. All iPhone/iPod apps will be 100% compatible.  You will be able to use any app you have already purchased on the tablet.
  6. Expect a new, better way to organize apps on the device.  Possibly a dynamic organizational structure that lets you organize them into groups, tag them, or view them alphabetically.  Or something else entirely different, but app organization will be key.  (I have to keep deleting apps on my iPhone to make room for more icons.  Not good if Apple wants to maximize app sales.)
  7. The name will likely be i-“something”.  Best guesses seem to be iSlate, iPad, and iBook.  If I were Jobs and flexible about deviating from the “i” brand, I would also consider the name “AppLet.”
  8. It will use multi-touch in creative ways we haven’t seen before.
  9. It will come standard with 64 GB.
  10. Price will be somewhere between $650 and $850.
  11. It will allow for significant interaction with text in books – such as highlighting, note taking, etc..  This is something critical for the textbooks to take-off on this platform and an area where Amazon’s Kindle failed.
  12. Battery life will be less than what many hope for.  Probably on par with the iPod Touch.  Expect non-removable batteries.
  13. Document review and editing will be built in.  This will include direct support for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.  PDF support will also be included with mark-up ability for PDFs as well.
  14. This will integrate both with the iPhone and Mac.  Possibilities include the ability to tether to the iPhone’s wireless connection (doubtful but hopeful) and the ability to automatically sync documents between a Mac and tablet (either through MobileMe or a simple drag and drop).
  15. It will be brilliantly simple to use.  Some features may require learning new ways of input, but expect the learning curve will be minimal.
  16. The OS will be different from the Mac and iPhone, but much closer to the iPhone.  (Microsoft made the mistake of trying to extend PC menus and folders to their tablet and phone operating systems.  Apple started from the ground-up with the iPhone – eliminating the scrollbar for example.)
  17. Simple photo editing built-in.  Video editing beyond what the iPhone can do is also a possibility.
  18. A forward facing webcam for video chats and rear facing camera for other functions.  The webcam will likely be 1.3 megapixels and the rear-mounted a 3 megapixel camera.
  19. Built-in GPS.  Possibly with fully functional maps of the US included, making it a potential replacement for whatever GPS you currently own.
  20. Weight will be under one pound.
  21. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G will all be built-in.  I suspect Apple will not require a data plan to be purchased with the tablet.  Instead, they may roll-out a service that allows you to download apps and books for free over 3G (like the Kindle) and possibly have some type of pay-as-you go pricing.  I expect this will be one of the most important innovations of the tablet.  (Not all innovations are technological.)
  22. It will be thinner than an iPhone with dimensions around 6” wide x 9” tall.
  23. It will have a 10-inch screen.  Display resolution will be at least 1,280 x 960.  Possibly as high as 1,450 x 1,050.
  24. Marvel Comics will be offered on the tablet.  Probably others comics as well, but definitely Marvel.  (Jobs is on the Board of Disney and Disney bought Marvel not long ago.)  A subscription option to allow unlimited viewing of all Marvel comics over 1-5 years old would be a strong possibility.
  25. Video integration will be huge.  Possibly with subscriptions to Hulu and network stations.  Downloadable video rentals will be key.  If the tablet has a display port (unlikely -- see below), it could be used to watch downloaded content on your TV.
  26. Unlimited (or limited?) music subscriptions (like Rhapsody) is a distinct possibility.
  27. It will be cooler than cool.

Things I hope for but don’t expect:

  1. An SD card slot.  It would be a tremendous boon for photographers to be able to copy their photos directly onto the tablet.
  2. A USB port.  This would allow thumbdrives and keyboards to connect.  I find this unlikely on both counts as it is not in keeping with the simplicity Apple promotes.  If a keyboard is an option, I expect it to be wireless.
  3. A display port.  Using Apple’s proprietary video connector, you could buy an adaptor that would allow you to hook this up to projectors to give presentations.  Very handy, especially if you can modify your presentations on the tablet.  Might impact the minimum thickness of the device.
  4. Pixel Qi screen.  This is a screen that can essentially turn from LCD quality to eInk.  It is coming out later this year and will have a ‘major partner'.’  I doubt this partner is Apple on several fronts: a) it would mean a later (June+) rather than sooner (March) launch; b) Pixel Qi is a super-cool concept, but with unproven reliability; and c) I think Pixel Qi is still working on integrating their technology with touchscreens.

We’ll see how well I do with my predictions tomorrow.  In the meantime, Gizmodo has a great page set-up for collecting all of the latest tablet rumors.  If you’re interested in what others are speculating, be sure to check it out.  Also, see their excellent write-up on the expected user-interface and their other tablet-related posts.

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